MUSOs of the ASO: Sherrilyn Handley, Tutti Cello

23 Mar 2021
  • Musician Spotlight
by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
MUSOs of the ASO: Sherrilyn Handley, Tutti Cello

For cellist Sherrilyn Handley, music is part of her whole being. She has been playing with the orchestra for 32 years, and you can find her sitting on stage alongside her husband and fellow cellist Christopher, who coincidentally shares her birthday! Sherri vividly remembers the day she won her position with the orchestra; it was made extra special by Chris, who proposed that very day.  

Find out about Sherrilyn’s special relationship with her cello, and which magical piece she played in her audition for the orchestra.

Adelaide born and raised, Pasadena is my home.

Bachelor of Music (Performance)

I knew I would make a career in music when:
I passed my audition for the ASO, but I wanted to make it my profession from about the middle of high school.

If I weren’t a professional musician:  
I would’ve liked to have been a psychologist, but the lure of travel also made being an air hostess look attractive!

How did you choose the cello? 
I started off learning the piano but in Grade 3 at school, we were offered the opportunity to play a string instrument. My older sister played the violin already so I didn’t want to do the same thing, and I have long fingers which are good for a cello player, so that’s how the initial choice came about.

Is there anything special about your actual instrument/does it have a name/any quirks?
My instrument is very special to me as I had it made by the French maker Frank Ravatin. During the making of the cello, he sent me pictures of its progress, which was amazing. When it was completed, Chris and I took our girls over to France to pick it up. We spent quite a bit of time with the maker and his family while I tried out the instrument and made adjustments. Apart from the fact that I love the cello, it has given me an extra special bond with it.

Describe the best thing about being a musician:   
One of the best things about being a musician is that we are always creating. No matter how many times you have played a certain piece in your career the playing of it always has something new about it whether it is because we have a different conductor or the player group is slightly different. Even from one night to the next, it can have different qualities.

Who has influenced you most as a musician?
As a cellist, the player I looked up to as a student was Rostropovich. He was an amazing player who I felt made everything look incredibly easy while still emanating this amazing energy and passion when he played. From an orchestral point of view, Sir Jeffery Tate has left a life-long impression on me. He was an amazing man and musician.

If you could play a different instrument, which would you choose and why?
If I had to choose another instrument it would probably be the oboe, as it has some of the most beautiful solos in the orchestral repertoire.

Which solo or moment in the cello orchestral repertoire is your favourite?
There are so many amazing solos for cello in the orchestral repertoire that it is hard to choose. Brahms Piano Concerto No.2 is amazing, and also some of the cello solos from Tchaikovsky ballets – Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty are lovely.

My most memorable performances with the ASO:  
The most memorable performance for me was playing the first Ring Cycle with Sir Jeffery Tate. I wasn’t a particular fan of Wagner before this, but the way Tate brought it to life was amazing and I have continued to love playing Wagner since. I don’t think there is anything like getting to the end of a Ring Cycle either, because it is so taxing physically, mentally and emotionally.

My first orchestral concert memory and what made it memorable?
I don’t have a particular memory of a concert that I went to as a child, but my dad was a great lover of ballet music so we had many records that he listened to and I also remember listening to a record of the 1812 Overture many times as a child.

COVID-19 put a hold over ASO concerts in 2020, what did you miss the most about not being able to perform?
The thing I missed the most about not being able to perform is the actual playing with others. It was great to have the time to do more of my own individual practice, but there is nothing like creating a piece of music with all the other instruments of the orchestra. What I love most about orchestral playing are the different colours that are created by mixing all the different instrument sounds of the orchestra.

Despite not being able to perform in concerts you still had to be fit to play when concerts resumeed. How many hours a day are were you practising, and what repertoire were you selecting? Where in the house do you practise?
During these strange times, I tried to give myself some structure at home by creating a five day working week where I did my own practice and also make sure that I am exercising as well because I have always found this to be important in keeping me cello-fit.

I was working on the Sixth Bach Suite which I had only skimmed the surface of before and I had also always wanted to learn the Lalo Cello Concerto. Chris and I have a music room where we practise and teach so it’s just a matter of working out who gets to practise when.

What is the thing you most craved whilst living in isolation?
I think the most difficult thing about being in isolation was our inability to go to work. It was hard to comprehend that 75 people just can’t be together to do what we normally do through no fault of our own.

When you’re not performing or practising, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Going for walks, I love gardening, reading, and being with my family.

When you’re not listening to classical music what do you listen to?
I think sometimes people think just because you are a musician you must listen to music all the time when you aren’t playing. I listen to very little music and enjoy podcasts, I find that my ears need a rest after a day of being surrounded by music.

Name three pieces of music you love, and why?  
1. Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 1 – I first heard this in a music class in Year 10 and fell in love with it immediately. It was the piece that made me want to be a professional musician and I was determined to play it one day. My dream came true in my final year at uni and it is the piece I played in my audition for the ASO.
2. Rimsky Korsakov- Scheherazade – This is one of my favourite pieces to play and listen to. It has some amazing solos across the orchestra and it has the feeling of being taken on a journey.
3. Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 – I love the richness of his music and the wonderful melodies.

Do you come from a musical family?
I am the youngest of four sisters in my family. My mum always wanted to learn an instrument herself but never had the opportunity so she wanted to make sure her children didn’t miss out. All four of us learned the piano and then we also picked up another instrument as well, so we had a flautist, clarinetist, violinist, and a cellist in the family. My two older sisters did Bachelor of Music degrees as well and went on teach.

Name three things people may not know about you?
1. I have been a runner for many years and enjoy playing sport.
2. I have two dogs who rule the house, an elderly Maltese Shitzu and young Golden Retriever.
3. I have two beautiful daughters who keep me on my toes.

Sherri Handley with her dogs Evie (Golden Retriever) and Paddy (Maltese Shitzu)

What’s your idea of a perfect day in Adelaide? 
My idea of a perfect day in Adelaide is going for a walk on the beach down at Brighton and then enjoying a coffee or breakfast at Jetty Road.

What piece of music never fails to move you? 

What’s your favourite type of food? 
My favourite type of food is any type of curry….the hotter the better!!

What’s the weirdest thing in your fridge/pantry?
I have a very boring fridge/pantry but I probably have more treats for the dogs than the humans in the house!!

What books are on your nightstand? 
The books that I have on my nightstand are JD Robb crime novels, I just finished The King’s Curse by Phillippa Gregory (I love historical novels) and Nowhere Child by Christian White.

Do you have any hobbies? 
My main hobbies are gardening, keeping fit and I dabble a little in painting!!

Sherri enjoys painting in her spare time

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